Hesperian Health Guides

How to Get Better Care

There are many decisions to make when you have a health problem. One decision is whether to see a health worker, and what kind of health worker you think you need. If there is more than one way to treat a problem, you will need to consider the risks and benefits of each kind of treatment before you make a decision. You will be able to make the best decisions—and get the best care—if you can take an active role in working with your doctor, nurse, or health worker to solve your health problem.

Know What to Expect

You will be best able to take an active role in your health if you are prepared and know what to expect when you seek medical care.

Questions about your health

It is best to learn as much as you can about your health problem before you use the medical system. Reading this book may help you understand your health problem and the possible causes. For help thinking about health problems, see “Solving Health Problems.”

It often helps to think of the questions you want to ask before you go for medical care.

The doctor, nurse, or health worker who sees you should ask about the problem you are having now and about your past health. Try to give complete information, even if you feel uncomfortable, so that the person asking the questions can learn as much as possible about your health. Always tell about any medication you are taking, including aspirin or family planning methods.

You should also have a chance to ask any questions you may have. It is very important to ask as many questions as you need to make a good decision about how to solve your health problem. If these questions have not already been answered, you may want to ask:

a woman asking herself questions
  • What are the different ways this problem can be treated?
  • What will the treatment do? Are there any dangers?
  • Will I be cured? Or will the problem come back?
  • How much will the tests and treatment cost?
  • When will I get better?
  • Why did the problem happen and how can I keep it from happening again?

Many doctors and nurses may not be used to giving good information, or they may be busy and not take the time to answer your questions. Be respectful, but firm! They should answer your questions until you understand. If you do not understand, it is not because you are stupid, but because they are not explaining well.

The exam

More Information
pelvic exam

In order to know what is wrong with you and how serious your problem is, you may need an examination. Most exams include looking at, listening to, and feeling the part of your body where the problem is. For most problems you need to undress only that part of your body. If you would feel more comfortable, ask a friend or female health care worker to be in the room with you during the exam.


a health worker doing an ultrasound exam of a woman's belly while the woman is lying down
ultrasound machine

Tests can give more information about a health problem. Many tests are done by taking a small amount of urine, stool, or coughed-up mucus and sending it to a laboratory. Or, a needle is used to take a small amount of blood from your finger or arm. Other common tests include:

  • taking some fluid from your vagina to test for sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
  • scraping cells from the opening of your womb (cervix) to test for cancer. (This is called a Pap test.)
  • taking tissue from a growth to test for cancer (biopsy).

X-rays are safe if they are used properly. A lead apron should be used to protect your reproductive organs.

  • using X-rays or ultrasound to see inside your body. X-rays may be used to find broken bones, severe lung infections, and some cancers. Try not to be X-rayed during pregnancy. Ultrasound can be used during pregnancy to see the baby inside your womb. Neither of these tests causes any pain.

Before you have any test, discuss the cost. Ask the doctor, nurse, or health worker to explain what he or she will learn from the test, and what would happen if the test was not done.

Bring a Friend or a Family Member

a woman speaking to a health worker while a younger woman lies in a bed
I am her mother. I can answer some of your questions.
If a woman is very sick, someone who can give information should go with her.

Many people feel worried about seeking medical care—even for illnesses that are not serious. And when a person is sick, it can be even harder for them to demand the care they need. If another person can go along, it can help.
A friend can:

  • watch the woman’s children.
  • help think of questions to ask, remind the woman to ask them, and make sure they are answered.
  • answer questions if the woman is too sick to talk.
  • keep the woman company while she waits.
  • stay with the woman while she is being examined, to support her and make sure the doctor acts in a respectful way.

This page was updated:17 Apr 2019